2018 Australian Grand Prix – Preview

Formula One is back!

That’s right, the pinnacle of motorsport is back with the 2018 Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne to start the 2018 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship, and after a year where Lewis Hamilton won his fourth world championship, and broke Michael Schumacher’s record for most pole positions in Formula One, as well as Mercedes winning their fourth-straight Constructor’s World Championship, can Hamilton win his fifth world championship, and Mercedes their fifth-straight Constructors’ World Championship.

Looking at testing, Mercedes look like they have the best car once again in Formula One, with some estimates suggesting that they are around half a second quicker than anyone else! However, testing results can be deceptive, so it will be interesting to see if they can keep that kind of advantage over their rivals.

Talking about their closest rivals, Red Bull and Ferrari are Mercedes closest rivals again, with Red Bull looking to have marginally the better car in comparison with the Ferrari. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen will have high hopes of realistically challenging for their first world championship, but will need better reliability from their TAG Heuer (Renault) power-unit in 2018 if they are to have any hope of challenging Hamilton and Mercedes.

Ferrari also look okay, perhaps not as good as what they were at the start of 2017, but Sebastian Vettel was at his brilliant best throughout the majority of last year, but a number of issues, including the front wing damage on the opening lap in Canada, his brain fade in Azerbaijan, a tyre puncture at the British Grand Prix, Ferrari’s inability to be strong at Monza, the first lap carnage in Singapore, mechanical issues in qualifying in Malaysia, and more mechanical issues in Japan really cost Vettel any hope of winning the championship.

However, Vettel managed to finish second in last year’s championship ahead of Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, but will be looking to get Ferrari into a position to end their 11-year Drivers’ Championship drought, and along with Kimi Räikkönen, end their 10-year Constructors’ Championship drought.

If there is to be a surprise in 2018, it may well come from Haas, who have a Ferrari power-unit, and have two drivers who on their day can perhaps challenge for a race victory in Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen.

Grosjean has had 10 podiums in his Formula One career to date, with nine of those coming across 2012 (three) and 2013 (six), with his last one coming at the Belgian Grand Prix in 2015, three years after causing that massive Turn One incident which got him suspended for the next race, an incident which involved Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Sergio Pérez, and Pastor Maldonado.

However, Grosjean has well and truly come a long way since then, and you would expect him to lead Haas’ charge, along with Magnussen, who of course finished second on his Formula One debut at Albert Park back in 2014 after Ricciardo was disqualified for a fuel regulation infringement, but hasn’t come close to a podium since! If Haas have a decent car, as I suspect they have, they could really challenge for high point-scoring finishes, and perhaps the odd podium in 2018.

Behind those four teams, it appears to be a close midfield battle between Renault, McLaren-Renault, Williams-Mercedes, Force India-Mercedes, and Toro Rosso-Honda, with the order of these five teams in Melbourne will be determined by the overall strength of their car, their power-unit, and the developments they have added to their cars since testing, while Sauber-Ferrari look like they are going to bring up the rear of a strong 20 car field.

There will be many changes as well that you will see in 2018, including the ‘halo’, which should provide a great safety benefit despite it being unaesthetically pleasing, and the addition of the superhard and hypersoft tyres, although we won’t be seeing those tyres at Albert Park, with the ultrasofts, supersofts, and softs being the choice of Pirelli for the opening round of 2018.

However, the biggest change will be the start times of races, starting 10 minutes past the hour, and starting an hour later at most European races, as well as at the Brazilian Grand Prix.

So, who will win the 2018 Australian Grand Prix, and maybe the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship?

As much as I see Red Bull and Ferrari both putting up a very consistent challenge for the championship, I cannot possibly tip against Mercedes, and while Bottas was strong in his first season with the team, I just cannot see him beating Hamilton in both the Australian Grand Prix and the championship.

In my mind, Hamilton to win over Bottas, with Vettel to grab his 100th podium in Formula One ahead of a fighting Ricciardo in fourth.

 

Friday 23rd March

Practice One: 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Practice Two: 4:00pm to 5:30pm

Saturday 24th March

Practice Three: 2:00pm to 3:00pm

Qualifying: 5:00pm to 6:00pm

Sunday 25th March

Race: 4:10pm

(All times are AEDT)

 

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2018 Qatar GP (MotoGP) – Preview

The wait is almost over, and it is time for the new season to finally commence! It is Round One of the 2018 MotoGP World Championship coming to you from the Losail International Circuit, which is about 30 kilometres north of Doha, the capital of Qatar, and it will begin what promises to be a great season, and it will be the longest season in the history of the sport, with 19 races for all to enjoy!

Four-time MotoGP World Champion and defending champion Marc Márquez, who has recently re-signed with Honda, will start the 2018 season as the favourite to win his fifth premier class title, and join Mick Doohan in equal-third for most premier class world championships, but will have to get past a number of contenders wanting to snatch the crown off him.

They include Andrea Dovizioso, who pushed Márquez all the way in 2017, winning six races, which was the same amount won by Márquez.

Maverick Viñales will also be a strong contender for the championship, despite a difficult second-half to his first season with the factory Yamaha team. Viñales won three of the first five races, but was unable to win any of the last 13 as he fell away to finish third in the 2017 championship.

Márquez’s teammate Dani Pedrosa should also be in the thick of things after winning twice in 2017, although he hasn’t been able to beat Márquez on a consistent basis, as should Valentino Rossi, who has re-signed with Yamaha, and is looking to defy age and perhaps the critics to equal Giacomo Agostini’s record of eight premier class world championships.

Three-time MotoGP World Champion Jorge Lorenzo will be looking to return to top form in 2018 after a tough first year with the factory Ducati team, being thrashed by his teammate, and rarely coming close to challenging for a race victory, only picking up three podiums, while Johann Zarco will be looking to back up his sensational rookie year last year, where he finished sixth in the championship with three podiums, with a strong season in 2018.

There will also be other contenders looking for race victories or podium finishes in 2018, including Danilo Petrucci, Cal Crutchlow, Alex Rins,  Andrea Iannone, and even Australian Jack Miller.

The only disappointing news heading into the season is that German rider Jonas Folger will not take part in the 2018 season after missing the last four races of 2017, a season where he got a podium at his home race, after being diagonosed with a rare strain of Gilbert Syndrome, which is a common genetic disorder where the liver is unable to process toxins effectively, and it affects around two to five percent of the world’s population.

Overall, looking at the season as a whole, you would have to tip Marc Márquez to win his seventh world championship across all classes, as you sense that when he has the bike he wants underneath him, and is at his favourite circuits, he will win all of those races, but has the ability to finish on the podium when the bike isn’t quite there more often than his opposition.

However, in terms of the opening race of 2018, I am thinking that either Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo will be very hard to beat on their factory Ducati bikes on that long front straight at the Losail International Circuit.

So, I am tipping a Ducati one-two, with Márquez to start his quest for a fifth MotoGP World Championship with a strong third-place finish at one of his least-favourite tracks.

Yamaha will also be strong, but not as strong as this time last year, while Suzuki could be a surprise packet with Alex Rins and Andrea Iannone.

So, I cannot wait for the season to begin! It should be a classic!

 

 

 

 

2018 NRL season preview: Penrith Panthers

In the last of my previews of every National Rugby League (NRL) club for 2018, we look at the Penrith Panthers, a team that has been under pressure heading into 2018 to deliver their fans their third premiership. It is a squad that has been written off by many during the off-season, and they have a coach who is seemingly under pressure to keep his job! However, will the Panthers claim glory when many least expect it?

Roster

Sione Katoa
Corey Harawira-Naera
Corey Waddell
Isaah Yeo
Jack Hetherington
James Fisher-Harris
James Tamou
Jed Cartwright
Kaide Ellis
Moses Leota
Nick Lui-Toso
Peter Wallace
Reagan Campbell-Gillard
Sam McKendry
Tim Browne
Trent Merrin
Viliame Kikau
Wayde Egan
Dallin Watene Zelezniak
Dean Whare
Dylan Edwards
James Maloney
Jarome Luai
Josh Mansour
Nathan Cleary
Tyrone May
Tyrone Peachey
Tyrone Phillips
Waqa Blake
Christian Crichton

Coach

Anthony Griffin

 

2018 Starting 17 Line-Up (Predicted)

1. Dylan Edwards
2. Josh Mansour
3. Dean Whare
4. Waqa Blake
5. Dallin Watene Zelezniak
6. James Maloney
7. Nathan Cleary
8. James Tamou
9. Peter Wallace
10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard
11. Corey Harawira-Naera
12. Isaah Yeo
13. Trent Merrin
14. Tyrone Peachey
15. Viliame Kikau
16. James Fisher-Harris
17. Tim Browne

Reserves

Outside Backs
Tyrone Phillips
Christian Crichton

Spine
Wayde Egan
Sione Katoa
Jarome Luai
Tyrone May

Power Forwards
Kaide Ellis
Moses Leota
Nick Lui-Toso
Sam McKendry

Small Forwards
Corey Waddell
Jack Hetherington
Jed Cartwright

 

Ryan Eckford’s prediction (1st)

After looking at every single team, the Penrith Panthers are my 2018 NRL premiership favourites!

The Panthers are looking to make the finals for a third-straight year for only the second time in their history, and in the third year in the only time they have made the finals for three-consecutive years, they won the premiership!

In addition to this, new recruit James Maloney (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks) is looking to win a premiership in his first year with a new club for the third-straight time after helping the Sydney Roosters win the premiership in 2013, before helping the Sharks to a drought-breaking premiership in 2016.

For a wonderful half who has been overshadowed by the likes of Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk, the next three years will give Maloney the opportunity to cement his legacy as one of the best players of his generation, as well as help develop a star of the next generation in Nathan Cleary, who in my opinion, given his age and the amount of matches he has played, is the most-prepared player to make his State Of Origin debut this year!

Overall, the Panthers are filled with world-class quality, and good NRL-ready depth. I think much of the criticism of coach Anthony Griffin is due to the fact that we don’t feel we really know him, but I think he is going to prove many people wrong to steer the Penrith Panthers to a third premiership!

 

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/2018-nrl-season-preview-melbourne-storm/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/2018-nrl-season-preview-sydney-roosters/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/2018-nrl-season-preview-north-queensland-cowboys/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/2018-nrl-season-preview-brisbane-broncos/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/2018-nrl-season-preview-cronulla-sutherland-sharks/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/2018-nrl-season-preview-parramatta-eels/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/2018-nrl-season-preview-manly-warringah-sea-eagles/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/2018-nrl-season-preview-st-george-illawarra-dragons/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/2018-nrl-season-preview-canberra-raiders/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/2018-nrl-season-preview-canterbury-bankstown-bulldogs/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/2018-nrl-season-preview-south-sydney-rabbitohs/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/06/2018-nrl-season-preview-nz-warriors/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/06/2018-nrl-season-preview-wests-tigers/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/06/2018-nrl-season-preview-gold-coast-titans/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/06/2018-nrl-season-preview-newcastle-knights/

2018 NRL season preview: Melbourne Storm

After dominating the 2017 NRL season, only losing four games, the Melbourne Storm will be looking to become the first club in an unified competition in 25 years to go back-to-back. However, after losing Cooper Cronk to the Sydney Roosters, will Brodie Croft be able to fill the large shoes of Cronk? Or, will the Storm struggle by their own standards in 2018?

Roster

Billy Slater
Billy Walters
Brodie Croft
Cameron Munster
Cheyse Blair
Curtis Scott
Jahrome Hughes
Josh Addo-Carr
Justin Olam
Ryan Papenhuyzen
Ryley Jacks
Sandor Earl
Scott Drinkwater
Suliasi Vunivalu
Will Chambers
Young Tonumaipea
Cooper Johns
Brandon Smith
Cameron Smith
Christian Welch
Dale Finucane
Felise Kaufusi
Harry Grant
Jesse Bromwich
Joe Stimson
Kenneath Bromwich
Lachlan Timm
Louis Geraghty
Nelson Asofa-Solomona
Patrick Kaufusi
Ryan Hoffman
Sam Kasiano
Tim Glasby
Tui Kamikamica
Tino Faasuamaleaui
Kayleb Milne
Junior Ratuva

Coach

Craig Bellamy

 

2018 Starting 17 Line-Up (Predicted)

1. Billy Slater
2. Suliasi Vunivalu
3. Will Chambers
4. Curtis Scott
5. Josh Addo-Carr
6. Cameron Munster
7. Brodie Croft
8. Jesse Bromwich
9. Cameron Smith
10. Tim Glasby
11. Felise Kaufusi
12. Ryan Hoffman
13. Dale Finucane
14. Kenneath Bromwich
15. Nelson Asofa-Solomona
16. Christian Welch
17. Patrick Kaufusi

Reserves

Outside Backs
Cheyse Blair
Justin Olam
Sandor Earl
Young Tonumaipea
Junior Ratuva

Spine
Billy Walters
Jahrome Hughes
Ryan Papenhuyzen
Ryley Jacks
Scott Drinkwater
Cooper Johns
Brandon Smith
Harry Grant

Power Forwards
Lachlan Timm
Sam Kasiano
Tui Kamikamica
Kayleb Milne

Small Forwards
Joe Stimson
Louis Geraghty
Tino Faasuamaleaui

 

Ryan Eckford’s prediction (2nd)

Despite losing Cooper Cronk (Sydney Roosters), as well as Jordan McLean (North Queensland Cowboys), Tohu Harris (NZ Warriors), and Slade Griffin (Newcastle Knights), you sense that the Melbourne Storm haven’t lost a beat, and have a genuine chance to become the first team in an unified competition since the Brisbane Broncos in 1992-1993 to go back-to-back.

Based on genuine playing merit, the Storm have not missed the finals for the past 15 years, which is ever since Craig Bellamy became the coach of the Storm. They have only missed the finals in 2010 due to being penalised for systematic salary cap breaches from between 2006 and 2010.

Overall, the Storm have made the finals for the last seven years, which is the equal-longest active streak (Cowboys) in the NRL, and I doubt this will change any time soon, especially with captain Cameron Smith, and fullback Billy Slater still very much at the top of their games!

And, I cannot see this team missing the finals with captain Cameron Smith still at the very top of his game, Billy Slater at the top of his game, and a high quality support cast around them!

After smashing the Leed Rhinos (38-4) in the World Club Challenge, the Storm have shown that they should be right at the top when the whips are cracking at the end of the season.

 

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/2018-nrl-season-preview-sydney-roosters/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/2018-nrl-season-preview-north-queensland-cowboys/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/2018-nrl-season-preview-brisbane-broncos/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/2018-nrl-season-preview-cronulla-sutherland-sharks/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/2018-nrl-season-preview-parramatta-eels/

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https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/2018-nrl-season-preview-st-george-illawarra-dragons/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/2018-nrl-season-preview-canberra-raiders/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/2018-nrl-season-preview-canterbury-bankstown-bulldogs/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/2018-nrl-season-preview-south-sydney-rabbitohs/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/06/2018-nrl-season-preview-nz-warriors/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/06/2018-nrl-season-preview-wests-tigers/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/06/2018-nrl-season-preview-gold-coast-titans/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/06/2018-nrl-season-preview-newcastle-knights/

2018 NRL season preview: Sydney Roosters

It is a start of a new era at the Sydney Roosters, with Mitchell Pearce moving on to the Newcastle Knights, being replaced by champion halfback Cooper Cronk. In addition to this, James Tedesco has arrived from the Wests Tigers to give the tri-colours some added spark from the back. However, will they live up to expectations?

Roster

Bernard Lewis
Blake Ferguson
Brendan Frei
Cooper Cronk
Daniel Tupou
James Tedesco
Joseph Manu
Lachlan Lam
Latrell Mitchell
Luke Keary
Mitchell Cornish
Paul Momirovski
Reece Robinson
Ryan Matterson
Sean O’Sullivan
Boyd Cordner
Brock Gray
Chris Smith
Dylan Napa
Eloni Vunakece
Isaac Liu
Jake Friend
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
Joshua Curran
Lindsay Collins
Mitchell Aubusson
Nat Butcher
Poasa Faamausili
Reuben Porter
Sio Siua Taukeiaho
Sitili Tupouniua
Victor Radley
Zane Tetevano
Billy Smith

Coach

Trent Robinson

 

2018 Starting 17 Line-Up (Predicted)

1. James Tedesco
2. Daniel Tupou
3. Latrell Mitchell
4. Blake Ferguson
5. Reece Robinson
6. Luke Keary
7. Cooper Cronk
8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
9. Jake Friend
10. Dylan Napa
11. Boyd Cordner
12. Mitchell Aubusson
13. Isaac Liu
14. Ryan Matterson
15. Sio Siua Taukeiaho
16. Zane Tetevano
17. Lindsay Collins

Reserves

Outside Backs
Bernard Lewis
Brendan Frei
Joseph Manu
Paul Momirovski
Billy Smith

Spine
Lachlan Lam
Mitchell Cornish
Sean O’Sullivan
Victor Radley

Power Forwards
Eloni Vunakece
Joshua Curran
Nat Butcher
Poasa Faamausili

Small Forwards
Brock Gray
Chris Smith
Reuben Porter
Sitili Tupouniua

 

Ryan Eckford’s prediction (3rd)

Like the Brisbane Broncos, the Sydney Roosters will be looking to defy history by making a grand final the year after being knocked out in the preliminary finals. However, unlike the Broncos, I feel the Roosters are inside their premiership window right now!

They have a strong squad led by Boyd Cordner, and bolstered by the signings of James Tedesco (Wests Tigers), but also Cooper Cronk (Melbourne Storm), who will become the first player to play for another NRL club after playing 300 or more first grade games for another club.

To clear up any potential confusion, Cliff Lyons played 23 matches for the North Sydney Bears at the start of his career before playing 309 matches for the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles.

Overall, the Roosters squad is strong, probably just as strong as last year with a strong backline, a great forward pack, and some good underrated young players waiting in the wings, but the pressure will be on the spine of Tedesco, Luke Keary, Cronk, and Jake Friend to see if they can get a good combination going early, and if they can, they should there or thereabouts when the whips are cracking at the business end of the season!

 

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/2018-nrl-season-preview-north-queensland-cowboys/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/2018-nrl-season-preview-brisbane-broncos/

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https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/2018-nrl-season-preview-canberra-raiders/

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https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/06/2018-nrl-season-preview-nz-warriors/

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2018 NRL season preview: North Queensland Cowboys

After a year where the North Queensland Cowboys defied the odds without Johnathan Thurston and Matthew Scott, their two co-captains, to make the grand final in 2017, Paul Green’s team will be looking to make their third grand final in the last four years, looking to claim their second premiership! However, will they win the premiership in Thurston’s final year?

Roster

Antonio Winterstein
Ben Hampton
Carlin Anderson
Enari Tuala
Gideon Gela-Mosby
Jake Clifford
Javid Bowen
Johnathan Thurston
Justin O’Neill
Kane Linnett
Kyle Feldt
Kyle Laybutt
Lachlan Coote
Michael Morgan
Shaun Hudson
Te Maire Martin
Coen Hess
Corey Jensen
Emry Pere
Ethan Lowe
Francis Molo
Gavin Cooper
Jake Granville
Jason Taumalolo
John Asiata
Jordan McLean
Josh Chudleigh
Matthew Scott
Mitchell Dunn
Sam Hoare
Scott Bolton
Shane Wright
Shaun Fensom

Coach

Paul Green

 

My 2018 Starting 17 Line-Up (Predicted)

1. Lachlan Coote
2. Kyle Feldt
3. Justin O’Neill
4. Kane Linnett
5. Antonio Winterstein
6. Michael Morgan
7. Johnathan Thurston
8. Matthew Scott
9. Jake Granville
10. Jordan McLean
11. Gavin Cooper
12. Ethan Lowe
13. Jason Taumalolo
14. Coen Hess
15. Scott Bolton
16. John Asiata
17. Shaun Fensom

Reserves

Outside Backs
Enari Tuala
Gideon Gela-Mosby
Javid Bowen

Spine
Ben Hampton
Carlin Anderson
Jake Clifford
Kyle Laybutt
Shaun Hudson
Te Maire Martin
Josh Chudleigh

Power Forwards
Corey Jensen
Francis Molo
Sam Hoare

Small Forwards
Emry Pere
Mitchell Dunn
Shane Wright

 

Ryan Eckford’s prediction (5th)

The North Queensland Cowboys are looking to make their third grand final in the last four years, and have once again put together a very strong squad, recruiting Jordan McLean from the Melbourne Storm, and seeing the returns of Matthew Scott (knee) and Johnathan Thurston (shoulder) from serious injuries.

Thurston only played seven matches for the Cowboys in 2017, which is equal lowest amount of matches he has played in a season in his NRL career, and the first time he has played less than 17 matches in a season since joining the Cowboys in 2005, while Scott only played two matches in 2017 after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament against the Brisbane Broncos in Round Two at Suncorp Stadium.

Overall, every single part of Paul Green’s squad is strong with only the depth of the squad maybe being a question mark for a club that has made the finals for the last seven years, which is the equal-longest active streak (Storm) in the NRL. If they were to make the finals for an eighth-straight season, it will be the most consecutive finals appearances for a club based in a regional Australian city in NRL history, surpassing the Newcastle Knights seven-straight finals appearances from 1997 to 2003.

As long as they don’t suffer a massive injury toll, they will be a premiership contender in Thurston’s final year!

 

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/2018-nrl-season-preview-brisbane-broncos/

https://ryaneckfordsports.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/2018-nrl-season-preview-cronulla-sutherland-sharks/

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